Try Out Expensive Camera Gear With This Subscription Service
Stepping up from a smartphone camera to a DSLR is intimidating, what with all those knobs and buttons and arcane menus. And that’s the easy part. The hard part is raising the cash and peace of mind to buy into a high-end rig. You can easily spend a few grand, and industry-wide improvements come so fast that buyer’s remorse is always a threat.
Parachut eliminates the friction by sending a steady stream of equipment to your door using a model similar to Spotify or Netflix. Wife-and-husband founders Melissa and Philip Niu hope to go beyond the online rental shop to create something like an iPod Shuffle for camera geeks. For $149 a month, you get a serendipitous assortment of shooters on loan. “Yes, we are technically leasing our equipment,” says Melissa Niu. “However, rental companies are primarily for people who know exactly what they want, what they need it for, and when they need it.”
Melissa says Parachut is about “gear exploration.” In-house camera geeks curate cameras, lenses, lights, and accessories based on preferences specified in your profile. It’s basic stuff: are you a beginner, hobbyist or pro; do you favor digital or film; what kinds of photos you take. You can add specific gear to your wish list, but you don’t have much say in when you get something. “You would be surprised how high the percentage is of people just wanting to be surprised,” Melissa says.
Deliveries, called “Chut Drops,” arrive with a pre-paid return label and box. As long as you have an active subscription, you can keep stuff as long as you like, whether its a Lytro, a drone, or a Rolleiflex large-format camera with film. Another $45 a month buys a protection plan that spares you the pain of a dropped camera or damaged lens.
Loaning drones is a risky proposition, and there are regulatory hurdles to consider. Commercial operators need a Section 333 exemption to fly, but that gives way to an entirely different process late next month. Melissa says drones appear on many subscribers’ wish lists, but Parachut wants to ensure people are properly certified before mailing them.
Parachut ain’t cheap. You’re looking at $1,788 a year ($2,328 with the protection plan), which would buy you a nice DSLR and a lens or two. But compared to spending, say, $7,000 for a Leica M9 or even $1,400 for a drone, it’s a bargain. And traditional rental shops tend to charge crazy high daily rates. Sure, Parachut offers something more akin to Pandora’s randomness combined with Spotify’s subscription model. But the Nius hope to fill a niche: Helping avid photographers find the best gear and letting them try before they buy.